AZUSA, Calif. -- Junior pitcher Zach Hedges threw a complete game, giving up just one hit in the final six innings to lead the Cougars to a 7-2 comeback victory in game one of Saturday's double-header before Azusa Pacific ran out of late-inning heroics in the finale of the four-game series, letting a 2-0 deficit grow into a 7-1 Fresno Pacific victory.
As the No. 9 team in the West Region, Fresno Pacific was the Cougars' toughest test in conference-play so far this season, and Azusa Pacific managed to pull out two wins in four games of a series where the Cougars and Sunbirds traded leads in nearly every game.
"You're not excited about splitting in any fashion when you are at home," head coach Paul Svagdis said. "At the end of the day though, after losing game one, the guys didn't let them affect them negatively in any way. I'm proud of the way the guys responded. Fresno Pacific is a very good team and they are going to be in the mix, but we have higher expectations for ourselves as a team."
Hedges earned his third win of the season as he retired each of the last 14 batters he faced, finishing the game with six strikeouts and just one earned run allowed.
"Zach did a great job," Svagdis said of the starting pitcher. "He looked better in the ninth than he did in the first. He has been a workhorse for us. We've seen him do this before, so we know that he is going to go out there and compete."
In game one Joseph Daris opened the seventh inning with a single, and squeezed two extra bases out of the hit, while the ball was bobbled in the outfield, winding up at third base. Then with the infield on the grass, Dusty Sanderson hit a groundball through to leftfield to give the Cougars their first lead of the day at 3-2. The next batter, Matt Kimmel, hit a long ball over the leftfield fence to give the Cougars a sizeable 5-2 lead.
Azusa Pacific added on two more runs in the bottom of the eighth with small ball, scoring on a fielder's choice and a wild pitch, before Hedges closed out the win. It was the Cougars' second consecutive win after trailing by multiple runs, doing so for the first time of the season.
The Cougars evened the score at two in the bottom of the fourth. A Sean Aspinall double plated Joe Huthsing and moved Blake James 90 feet from home. Cam Bennett then drove in James with an RBI-groundout to shortstop in his first career start as a Cougar.
In game two, Wilson Ashford got to erase some bad memories. In his last outing at the Cougar Baseball Complex in 2012, Ashford was knocked around for eight runs in 3.1 innings, but in the series-finale, Ashford threw six scoreless innings before finally allowing one run in the seventh for a complete game win.
"Ashford did a good job in the second game," Svagdis said of the Sunbird's ace. "It's a seven-inning game, and our hitters had a good process. We just hit a lot of balls that got caught, so we didn't have an opportunity to make plays happen."
The Cougars tallied six hits against Ashford, who struck out four batters. Meanwhile, Adam McCreery was keeping Azusa Pacific in the game by quieting the Sunbird offense. However a sacrifice fly in the fourth frame broke the scoreless pitching duel, and a Joshua Banuelos solo shot in the sixth, handed the Sunbirds a 2-0 lead. Before the Cougars could attempt another late-inning comeback though, Fresno Pacific added five runs in the top of the seventh inning.
"I thought McCreery did a good job of giving us a chance to win," Svagdis said. "We need to give him more runs in six innings to work with, but he kept us in the game."
McCreery was saddled with his first loss of the season even though he struck out five batters and held the Sunbirds to two runs through the first six innings. Azusa Pacific will be back in action for a double-header against Academy of Art on Tuesday in part of an 18-game home streak in the Cougars' schedule.